• Addressing a complex resource conflict: humans, sea otters, and shellfish in Southeast Alaska

      Ibarra, Sonia Natalie; Eckert, Ginny L.; Monteith, Daniel; Pyare, Sanjay; Langdon, Stephen J.; VanBlaricom, Glenn (2021-05)
      Complex resource conflicts may benefit from the inclusion of social-ecological systems approaches that recognize the complex linkages between humans and their environment. Competition for shared shellfish resources by sea otters and humans in Southeast Alaska has caused food security concerns, cultural and economic losses, and uncertainty about the future of various fisheries, including rural subsistence-based fisheries. In rural Alaska Native communities, access to subsistence resources are critical to maintaining a way of life, with deeply rooted knowledge systems that are tied to the land, water, and natural resources. This dissertation documents Indigenous and local knowledge of Alaska Native customary and traditional food experts, sea otter hunters, and elders (hereafter harvest experts) to understand empirical observation and interpretations of restoring balance with sea otters. This work took place within the traditional territories of the Tlingit and Haida people of Southeast Alaska in four rural communities, Kake, Klawock, Craig, and Hydaburg. With Tribal leaders and harvest experts, my collaborators and I used a participatory framework that became a formal partnership to co-develop study goals, objectives, and methodology. Through a multiple evidence-based approach, I co-conducted semidirected and site visit interviews, structured questionnaires, mapping exercises, and participant observation in all four communities, and intertidal bivalve (shellfish) surveys in Hydaburg and Kake. Qualitative and quantitative approaches revealed local and Indigenous knowledge about sea otters caused changes to subsistence shellfish resources and harvesting patterns that included declines in availability and spatial extent of shellfish harvests, and shifts in shellfish harvest hotspots. Community adaptive strategies to observed shellfish declines include shifting harvest locations away from sea otter presence. Community management recommendations about restoring balance with sea otters include increasing sea otter hunting locally using spatially explicit techniques. Financial subsidies for sea otter hunters, creating local tanneries, legal changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and market creation and development for sea otter handicrafts were noted as solutions to barriers of local implementation to management recommendations. Commercial and charter fisheries are other factors that have contributed to shellfish declines. Butter clam (Saxidomus gigantea) size and density declined with increased distance to community and increased sea otter activity near Hydaburg, demonstrating the influence of sea otters and human harvests on bivalve population dynamics. Application of these results about Indigenous knowledge, management, and governance systems to sea otter management in Alaska could create a more inclusive, equitable and community-driven management approach.